Is “My Milwaukee” really our Milwaukee?
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Along with needlepoint and curating the largest collection of Louie Anderson fan-fic in the country, I spend a fair amount of time worrying about Milwaukee. I worry about its future, and I worry about its image. Back in May, I worried about how Milwaukee would survive a gubernatorial candidate who couldn’t stop talking shit about it. (How’d that whole thing pan out, anyway?) I’ve worried about Milwaukee’s music scene and I’ve worried about its individual neighborhoods. More recently, I’ve been worrying about the “My Milwaukee” blog on JSOnline, which is the worst thing ever.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit much. Maybe. For those of you who haven’t ferreted out this odious collection of grunts and curious punctuation choices for yourselves, let me get you up to speed. “My Milwaukee” is a new series of blogs written by “young professionals from NEWaukee and ART Milwaukee.” That sentence alone should raise a few questions: Is “My Milwaukee” an advertisement for these organizations? Is it meant as a resource for the city’s young professionals? A virtual beacon for young professionals looking to relocate to Milwaukee? Honestly, after a few weeks spent browsing its contents, I’m not sure. Here’s how the blog describes itself in its first entry, “Meet My Milwaukee’s bloggers”:
For My Milwaukee, we’ve assembled a team of Milwaukeeans each with a unique view of the city. From creatives to computer engineers, our bloggers are connected with major corporations, start ups, and non-profits and each have their own niche within this city they collectively call home. [...]
Make sure to stay tuned for new bloggers popping up on this list. We are committed in this blog to provide you with the most diverse points of view that we can while also showcasing all that Milwaukee has to offer.
A showcase for “all that Milwaukee has to offer”? Sounds good. So who among the city’s teeming masses has been charged with offering up these “diverse points of view”? I hate to pull the dreaded “white people” card, but yeah, it’s a bunch of white people. Three white dudes and six white girls (as of this date), to be exact. Their credentials are equally bland and puzzling: a “museum professional,” an “award-winning copywriter,” a “Couchsurfing Ambassador” (huh?), and founders/members/buddies of ART Milwaukee/NEWaukee. Yeesh.
Okay, so “My Milwaukee” may not contain the most diverse viewpoints in town—hell, it may not contain the most diverse viewpoints in the young professional crowd. But what about the content? That’s where things get really irritating. As expected, the bulk of “My Milwaukee” is civic cheerleading at its most inane: mindless chirping about how great Milwaukee is, but no evidence to back it up. Milwaukee is super-cool! We have a great nightlife! Yummy restaurants! Lots of opportunities for young people! The end!
In fact, ignoring a cursory mention of Brady Street in the opening paragraph, an entry entitled “The cool vibe” could be about virtually any city in America. Let’s try it out by swapping in the names of other cities every time the word “Milwaukee” appears:
Cleveland has always had a sort of “the cool” vibe to me. Ever since I was a teenager first able to drive, Des Moines was usually my destination. I’m from a suburb outside of the [sic] Branson, and didn’t really start exploring the city until I was about 17.
Cincinnati changed me. It changed how I would come to think and how I would view the world. In no small way did living so close to the city help influence me into becoming a musician, a martial artist, and a writer. Walking down any given street, music from live bands, both local and international, drifts out to ensnare anyone willing to enter. Next door, a locally funded art gallery shows cutting edge work created by the bright minds living here. And it doesn't stop there. It is endless.
Live bands and art galleries? Only in Milwaukee! Other entries are just as vague:
- “What to do in Milwaukee”: “Milwaukee has it all: a constantly evolving music and art scene, a vibrant downtown nightlife scene…”
- “Man, I love Milwaukee”: “As a non-native Milwaukeean—transplant circa 2007—I am continuously [sic] impressed as the city develops into a region with a lot to offer its young professionals…”
- “Who is Milwaukee?”: “We have all of the attractions of a big city: large scale festivals, museums, a thriving arts scene and world-class restaurants…”
- “Couchsurfer in Milwaukee”: “Milwaukee is exploding with life, opportunities, culture, and entertainment…”
These are all nice sentiments, and some of them are true, but where’s the city-specific evidence to back it all up?
Normally, I avoid picking on awful websites that purport to be the “No. 1 source for Milwaukee entertainment!” or whatever. I also try to avoid hammering on so-called “reader” or “community” blogs, which are typically as useless as they are copy-editor-free. But the fact that the “My Milwaukee” blog is being hosted by the largest newspaper in the entire state concerns me. Is the prospect of free content really that alluring? This is poorly written, inconsequential fluff aimed at an attractive and highly sought-after demographic. Worst of all, it’s embarrassing inconsequential fluff. Is this how we want others to view our community of civic-minded young professionals?
Maybe I’m being a little harsh. I don’t mean to bash ART Milwaukee and NEWaukee—they both seem to be filled with positive, outgoing folks who love their city. I love my city, too, but I wish we’d start demanding more from our local movers and shakers than just chipper attitudes and the occasional tweet-up in Walker’s Point. We need more real art critics with real opinions, and we need more music and culture critics who aren’t afraid to cut through the bullshit and empty platitudes. I’d like to think we do our small part here at The A.V. Club in Milwaukee—but we need more.
Coincidentally, the “My Milwaukee” blog shares a similar name with a 2008 viral video entitled “This Is My Milwaukee.” That video turned out to be nothing more than a bizarre marketing stunt with no meaningful connection to our city. I wish the same couldn’t be said for so much of our local “criticism.”